Amy Leversidge: Parliament must not ‘wipe the slate clean’ on past bullying allegations

Posted On: 
22nd June 2018

If the House of Commons authorities are serious about restoring faith in their grievance procedures, they must address past allegations of bullying and harassment, writes FDA Assistant General Secretary Amy Leversidge

The Steering Group on an Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy, led by the Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom, is developing a new procedure for dealing with bullying and harassment in Parliament

It can’t be said often enough that the majority of MPs treat House staff with the upmost respect, however there are a minority that don’t, and when this happens it can be devastating. Bullying and harassment can affect people’s health, their work and can result in dedicated, talented and hardworking staff leaving their career. Having an effective complaints policy deals with these issues head on and prevents a culture of bullying from developing and feeding upon itself.

Currently, house staff have a bullying and harassment policy called the Respect Policy, how-ever the past few months have shown that staff no longer have trust and confidence in it. The fact that concerns are being raised through the media should not be seen as a betrayal, a plot, or an inconvenience but rather what happens when problems are not dealt with fairly and are left to fester over time.

Jess Phillips: I like and respect the Speaker. But his accusers deserve to be listened to

Andrea Leadsom: Our solution to change the culture in Westminster

MPs block inquiry into allegations of bullying against Commons Speaker John Bercow

The Steering Group on an Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy, led by the Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom, is working on a new process, and the desire is for the new policy to cover all those working in the House, replacing the Respect Policy. However, one of the key issues for the group is how the new policy will apply to past behaviours.

It is unfair, the argument goes, to hold people to account for their behaviour from a time before the policy was introduced, so we can’t include investigations into past cases.

However, this argument rests on the notion that either MPs are just not aware of what constitutes acceptable conduct in the workplace or that any new policy introduces stricter standards of behaviour that weren’t previously in place. The Respect Policy sets out definitions of bullying and harassment so it is hard to understand how any MP can make the case that they weren’t aware what constituted unacceptable behaviour.

Regardless, it is unbelievable to suggest that MPs are unaware of how to treat people in the workplace.

When the current Respect Policy was introduced it precluded staff from raising issues that predated its introduction, effectively it wiped the slate clean. Bullying and harassment are often a series of incidents over many months or years, rather than a one-off incident. By wiping the slate clean trust and confidence in the Respect Policy was undermined because rather than protecting staff and giving them access to redress the process ended up weakening their cases.

The Steering Group must learn this important lesson and make sure the new policy finds a fair way to deal with past behaviours. Trust and confidence will not be restored if past behaviours go unaddressed.

Dame Laura Cox QC is currently conducting her inquiry into systemic bullying in the House. She will surely make recommendations for how the new policy can be improved based on the evidence she has heard.

It is only right that the House wait for Dame Laura’s report before they finish work on the new policy so that they can take into account her findings, in particular any recommendations she might make about how to deal with past cases fairly.

Many staff have given evidence on the understanding that their testimony will help improve the culture of the House and it would be wrong to ignore or dismiss their evidence and worse still, just ask them to chalk it up to experience.

The FDA believes that an independent policy, that has the trust and confidence of staff and MPs alike, will effect a positive change on the culture of the House, making it clear that everyone must be treated with dignity and respect at work.

But the House can only truly say that bullying and harassment will not be excused or tolerated when it also says that it will not wipe the slate clean again.

Amy Leversidge is Assistant General Secretary of the FDA